Trump is held in contempt, fined $9,000 at New York hush money trial

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee repeatedly violated the gag order and attacked witnesses and jurors on social media, said the judge in charge of the criminal trial in Manhattan, who threatened him with jail

Donald Trump
Former president Donald Trump, in a Manhattan court.JUSTIN LANE (via REUTERS)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s criminal trial in Manhattan — the first of four faced by the former U.S. president — on Tuesday held him in contempt of court and fined him $9,000 for repeatedly violating a gag order. Judge Juan Merchan also threatened to put Trump behind bars if he continues to violate the order and keeps criticizing witnesses and jurors on social media.

Judge Merchan said he was “keenly aware of, and protective of, defendant’s First Amendment rights” but warned that he would not tolerate continued violations of his orders and would jail Trump “if necessary and appropriate under the circumstances.” Merchan imposed the gag order on Trump in March and expanded it on April 1, two weeks before the trial’s start date. The former president has been told to refrain from making public statements in connection with other trials and fined twice for ignoring the order.

According to prosecutors, in the first week of the trial Trump violated the order imposed by Merchan on 10 occasions. The order aimed to prevent the verbal incontinence of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee from reaching witnesses and jurors, as well as relatives of the judge and the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg. Only Merchan and Bragg are left out of the order and Trump is free to criticize them, as he has been doing almost daily.

As the trial entered its third week of the trial, Judge Juan Merchan’s decision to hold Trump in contempt was announced just minutes before the court heard testimony from a banker familiar with Trump’s accounts and the $130,000 deposit made to porn actress Stormy Daniels to buy her silence regarding her alleged affair with Trump. The alleged purpose of the payment was to prevent the sexual scandal from coming to light in the last stretch of the 2016 election campaign, compromising Trump’s chances at the polls. Trump was ultimately elected president, and the prosecution considers that the “hush money” payment was a violation of campaign finance laws.

The historic criminal trial is the first targeting a former president of the United States. It began on April 22, after a week dedicated to jury selection. On Tuesday, around 20 Trump supporters gathered in front of the court, chanting his name and waving banners that read “TRUMP 2024.” They were summoned there by a local Republican organization after the former president openly complained about the few protests against the trial in a city considered a Democratic stronghold where Republicans are a clear minority.

In addition to banker Gary Farro — who is not accused of any crime and also testified on Friday about the financial records presented by former lawyer and Trump fixer Michael Cohen, who made the payment to Daniels — the main testimony to date has been that of David Pecker, former publisher of the sensationalist tabloid The National Enquirer. In 2015 Pecker, who was a personal friend of Trump, said he devised a “catch and kill” system to purchase the rights to stories that cast Trump in a bad light with the deliberate goal of preventing them from being published. Not just reports about Trump’s meeting with Daniels in 2006, which the Republican candidate has always denied, but also other relationships with models.

Every day of the trial, Trump has complained that he should be campaigning instead of being forced to sit for hours, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., so as not to miss opportunities in his rematch against President Joe Biden in the November 5 elections. As usual since his legal problems began, he also complains of being subjected to a political persecution orchestrated by his Democratic rivals. The New York criminal case is one of four indictments against Trump, but it might be the only one to go to trial and conclude with a verdict before election day.

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